San Diego's municipal hiring freeze is starting to thaw.
Negotiators for the city and its labor unions reached a tentative agreement Thursday that's expected to result in upgraded service levels.
The hiring freeze began August 1st due to legal complications involving Proposition B, the pension reform measure that San Diego voters overwhelmingly passed in June.
It's kept the city from spending money that's finally available to restore services scaled back over several years.
“The idea that we were able to reach at least a tentative agreement on one step is a good thing,” City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told NBC 7 Thursday evening. “We have a good working relationship. We want to keep that momentum going. I think everybody benefits, our employees, taxpayers, the city."
Said Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, who sat in on bargaining talks: "There was a lot of chest-beating and fist-pounding at different points in the process, but I think the tone yesterday was much more congenial.”
In an interview Friday, Goldsmith said the city offered a proposal that was countered by the unions, prompting another back-and-forth that resulted in Thursday’s compromise.
“I don’t believe that we had to put any hammer on them,” Goldsmith added. “I do believe they may have felt that the voters have spoken, and maybe they assessed their chances in the courts.”
But union leaders tell NBC 7 it was because the city's workforce is so depleted -- especially the Fire-Rescue Department, now on mandatory overtime shifts, and public safety dispatchers -- that they moved quickly to end the hiring freeze.
“That’s all it was, plain and simple,” said Frank De Clercq, president of San Diego Fire Fighters Local 145.
Once the hiring moratorium is lifted, assuming it's ratified by the City Council in late September, two new Fire Academy classes can go forward.
And, services such as libraries, parks and recreation can begin staffing up with money already budgeted as a result of escalating city revenues.
Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio attributes the interim deal to the "leverage" of Proposition B.
"There are certain ways that we could use discretion to help the unions come to an agreement,” De Maio said in an interview Friday. “But at the end of the day, the unions know we don't need an agreement to get many of these reforms done … I'm thrilled; it shows that we're on a roll.""
DeMaio’s opponent, Bob Filner, instead credits good-faith bargaining on the city's part.
"What the agreement shows is that when you sit down and you take bargaining seriously, you can come to agreement, “ Filner said. “ It's time we had a mayor that understood that process … Mr. DeMaio is having press conferences, and he doesn't even understand his own initiative."
Goldstone said other aspects of the interim retirement plan remain to be ironed out, and could be added to the framework of the agreement retroactively.
Prop. B is still in early stages of legal challenges that experts say could take many months, at least, to resolve.